October 23, 2012

Why Work in a Ghanaian Psychiatric Hospital?

By Helen Jack,
Yale 2012

Ghana’s 11 psychiatrists serve a population of more than 24 million, nearly twice that of New England. Stigma and misunderstanding of mental health adds to the burden on workers, and their efforts go largely underappreciated. In Ghana last summer, I faced the question “How can we motivate people to work in mental health care?” Data is needed to answer this question – a resource-efficient intervention cannot be designed until the problems at hand are dissected and truly understood.

I wanted to ensure that any data I collected for my senior thesis at Yale could be useful to a development project, that it would not just fill a paper that few beyond my professor would read. I approached GHLI and the Ghanaian delegation with this goal in mind.

Together, we designed a study of Ghana’s mental health workforce, aimed at exploring how staff in psychiatric hospitals can be recruited and retained. I spent summer 2011 at Ghana’s three psychiatric hospitals, interviewing staff members.

“One thing that motivates us to work is our colleagues,” said a psychiatric nurse. “Sometimes you are tired, but your colleague says, ‘my friend, let’s get up and do the work.'” Almost universally, positive interpersonal relationships and constructive feedback motivated staff. On the other hand, workers were regularly attacked by patients and not compensated for injuries, they felt that the stigma of mental health disorders extended to those who treated them, and they were frustrated with the poor hospital infrastructure, low salaries, and lack of professional development opportunities.

Following data collection, the members of the Ghanaian delegation helped me get my research findings to decision-makers in Ghana, providing them with information that could inspire and inform changes. Some of the data, for example, went to the Vice President, helping advocate for the passage of a new Mental Health Law, which would increase focus on workforce welfare. The opportunity to conduct research in global health comes with the responsibility of ensuring that information gets back to where it can be most useful.

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